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The SAT essay: What You Need to Know

With the changes to the SAT format in 2016 the SAT essay has become optional and its format has been revised, so a lot of other guides out there won’t be up to date. We’ve summarized the most important strategies here to help you lift your score and ensure it’s one of your strongest sections. The new SAT essay, though optional, is required by many schools and different programs for college entry and thus it is vital to get a good score.

So here’s how to do it:

The basics of the system

  1. Understand how you will be marked
  2. The three sections you will be judged on are Reading, Analysis and Writing, with each carrying the same marks. The markers have specific guidelines for what to look out for under each section. It is very important to read through these and keep them in mind when writing your essay, as no matter how excellently you might tick the boxes for one section, the marks for it will only amount to a third of the total.

  3. Know what you are being asked
  4. Happily, the format of the question you will be asked will be very similar every year. This doesn’t mean that the essay will necessarily be easier to write, just that you will be able to know what they are looking for every time. Basically, it will require you to identify and explain how the author of the given passage has used different techniques and methodologies to create their argument. Therefore, you will have to analyze and breakdown how an argument is formed, rather than give any personal opinion on how good the argument is.

How to write a better essay

  1. Read through the passage carefully
  2. The main thrust of the Reading section for the marking of the essay judges how well you have understood the passage. To do this you will need to display your comprehension of the core ideas the author has put forward, how they are woven together and your ability to identify the key sentences or examples that sum them up. Try and read through the passage as objectively as possible as you are judging the author rather than giving your own opinion about the topic, no matter how strongly you might feel about it!

  3. Support your analysis well
  4. As it is a timed essay you will not be able to go into the length or detail you might wish to when giving your answer. For this reason, you must be precise and strategic. Identify how the author has put across their argument and pick 3 – 4 points which stand out and which you can support well. You will have to think quickly so underline the pieces that stand out as you go along, then when you are constructing your essay (e.g. in a standard 5-paragraph essay format) take a couple of important quotes from the passage which clearly demonstrate the point you are making.

  5. Understand the process of writing well
  6. It would be great if we were all Hemingways or Joyces but that just isn’t the case! So for anyone who’s worried that the standard of their writing isn’t awe-inspiring or they don’t have a vocabulary of fancy words there is an easy solution. That is to understand what’s being looked for. Big words can be great but only if used effectively. The most important thing is that you have a strong thesis statement, a cohesive argument which supports it, and that you can build an argument effectively. By just focusing on the basics and doing them well you will be rewarded for being clear and incisive. Don’t try to complicate things unnecessarily or say things you’re not comfortable with. Being clear and confident in your statements is the key to great writing.

So, there you have it, by following these easy steps you will be able to master the SAT essay and count on it to deliver you a great result. Good luck!